The fabulous Lauren Sams began her career at ‘Cosmopolitan’ before moving to ‘Girlfriend’ where she was Deputy Editor. Lauren is now back at ‘Cosmopolitan’ where she is Associate Editor and also Managing Editor of ‘Cosmopolitan Bride.’ TBS chats to Lauren about creating content, why she rejects the notion of ‘women having it all,’ and of course her latest creation, her novel ‘She’s Having Her Baby.’
How did you get your start in magazines?
I started in mags by writing a weekly “gossip” column for cleo.com.au. This was way back in the day when: a) gossip columns could be weekly (!) and b) nobody cared about websites. It was enough to have a website, you didn’t need to nurture it or care about the content or pay attention to the audience. This worked out great for me, because I got to write every week for an international brand despite having exactly zero experience.
From there, I went for a job as web editor at CLEO, which I did not get because I “didn’t have enough experience” (true: I didn’t just have “not enough”, I had “none”.) Six months later, with a bit more training under my belt, I got the job as web editor at Cosmopolitan. I love Cosmo so much, and am a Cosmo girl at heart – it was (and remains) my dream job.
At Cosmopolitan, how do you go about creating the content for the monthly issues?
We have a monthly features meeting, to which the features team brings lots of ideas. They might reference a trend we’ve noticed in the news, or in an overseas publication, they might be based on current events (campus rape was a huge story last year, and sadly, continues to be), they might have come from conversations with our friends or partners. Nora Ephron said that “everything is copy,” and like most things Nora said, she was absolutely bang-on. So beware becoming friends with a writer: you may see your life in print someday, whether you like it or not.
From there, we pitch our best ideas to the rest of the team. This is a relatively new way of doing things for us, but I think it’s key. The rest of the team, most of whom are not writers, often have a different, and useful, perspective on the stories we’ve pitched. They might know someone who could help (like a case study or an expert), or they might just think it’s a bad idea. Pitching to the rest of the team is a litmus test for the way our readers will react. It’s always cool to hear them go, “Ooh! I love that!” when you pitch.
What sort of content works for the magazine?
Content has to be new (or have a new spin: I can’t tell you how many writers have pitched me an idea about “breaking up with your best friend”! The minute someone puts a new spin on this EXTREMELY dated idea, I’ll commission it!). It has to offer the reader something (if it’s a fitness trend, how can the reader do it at home? If it’s a political piece, what can the reader do to action it?) It should make them feel something (often, that “something” is “aroused”). And it should feel cool and original. These things go for all our content – features, entertainment, beauty and fashion. Cosmo has a very strong direction, and that’s how we’ve managed to stick around for so long!
What have been some of the challenges you have faced throughout your career?
The first time I was at Cosmo, I missed out on being features editor twice. The first time, I understood it, but the second time was a blow. As luck would have it, I got offered a job as deputy editor at Girlfriend and jumped ship. Sometimes I think you have to leave to come home again, you know? As deputy, I learned a lot about management and people. It was invaluable, really. And whaddya know? Once I’d got that experience, Cosmo wanted me back.
How do you go about promoting women to be leaders in your workplace?
By exclusively hiring them! Our team is entirely made up of women. We had a male retoucher once (what’s up, Julian?) but he’s long gone (and actually, is writing a novel of his own!). So in terms of who will rise through the ranks, it’s sort of always going to be a chick.
My editor, Bronwyn, and deputy, Claire, are very invested in ensuring we know how to become leaders. They foster talent but they are also quick to point out when things could have been done better, and I actually really appreciate that. It’s nice to hear, “You’re doing a great job” but you also need to hear, “You screwed up; next time, do this.” I’d argue that the latter is far more important.
Tell us about your new book ‘She’s Having Her Baby.’ Where did the idea come from? Real life?
She’s Having Her Baby is about best friends Georgie and Nina. Georgie doesn’t want kids, Nina is desperate for them. Nina asks Georgie to be her surrogate and Georgie agrees – and that decision throws their friendship into the lion’s den.
I wanted to write about friendship and infertility because I think both are really ripe for exploring. Female friendship is endlessly fascinating to me. My friendships are like watching The Bold and The Beautiful, insomuch as I could go months without chatting to a friend and then pick up exactly where we left off, like the absence never even happened. I think that’s so amazing, and I’m not so sure it happens with men. I also think that female friendships are so much more loaded – we care so much that sometimes, it all falls apart. So the inner workings of all that was very interesting to me.
And I wanted to write about infertility because I felt like I was seeing it everywhere. Once I had a baby of my own, I started to realise how comparatively rare it is these days to have sex and have a baby. There’s a line in the book about how one character “got pregnant in eleven minutes,” very much inspired by moi. Talking to friends and women I met through mothers’ groups and daycare, I realised how lucky we had been. I wanted to write about the heartbreak and unfairness and injustice of it all, through the lens of Georgie and Nina’s friendship.
What do you think about women ‘having it all?’ Career, family, social life – what’s your advice on achieving all this?
I really reject the question of women “having it all” because men are never asked this! I have lots of things for which I’ve worked hard and am really grateful for. My advice on achieving the elusive “all” is to figure out what is important to you and go for it.
She’s Having Her Baby by Lauren Sams is published by Nero. On sale now RRP $29.99